Edinburgh TV Festival: Brian Cox says opportunities for working-class acting talent ‘bloody disgraceful’

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Scottish stage and screen star Brian Cox says it is “bloody disgraceful” there are fewer opportunities for working-class people to pursue a career in acting now than when he launched his career in the 1960s.

Citing the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic West and Eddie Redmayne, the star of Succession, Manhunter, Bob Servant and Braveheart said the acting profession was “class-ridden, feudal and is still everybody in their place”.

Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Friday, Cox said he would be unable to pursue his childhood dreams of becoming an actor if he was leaving school now.

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Actor Brian Cox was speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival.Actor Brian Cox was speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival.
Actor Brian Cox was speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Cox said the inequalities in the class system had partly inspired his conversion to the cause of Scottish independence.

The actor recalled how he had got his first job at Dundee Rep Theatre in his home city as a teenager. Cox went on to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art before becoming one of the founder members of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company in Edinburgh.

Cox was asked by a member of the audience about the “inaccessibility” of the industry to working-class people.

The actor said: “When I was 15 years old, all I got was a certificate which said I was educated and that was it. They let me leave school.

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Actor Brian Cox. Picture: Channel 5/PA WireActor Brian Cox. Picture: Channel 5/PA Wire
Actor Brian Cox. Picture: Channel 5/PA Wire

"I’ve always had a vision about where I wanted to be in terms of being an actor. I was very lucky. The 60s was a period of incredible social mobility. It was after the war, it was the beginning of the end of the Macmillan Government. It was an extraordinary time.

"People from my class now do not have the same kind of access, which I think is bloody disgraceful. They cannot get to what they want to do because of the system, which does not help them.

“I don’t want to do this, but people like Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic West and Eddie Redmayne all went to public schools.

"The public school system has these amazing state-of-the-art theatres. They're usually taught by actors who are now teachers. They go to drama school and, of course, they can afford to pay.

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“I could not do it now, I just simply could not do it. It is still class-ridden, it is feudal and it is still everybody in their place. That’s why I’m keen on my country being free.”

Cox admitted he had previously mocked the idea of Scottish independence.

He said: “It’s taken me many years. I never believed in it, I used to ridicule it like nobody’s business.

"But when you realise how corrupt it all is, certainly with what we’ve seen with this last Government, it’s absolutely appalling.

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"It's the story of our lives. We’ve been at the mercy of it forever in Scotland. We screwed it up way, way back with the loss of our first Parliament. We shot ourselves in the foot.

“But out of that came the Scottish Enlightenment and guys like Adam Smith and David Hume, who were extraordinary men and humanists who gave a whole view of the world. We contributed that to America.

"A lot of the American constitution was based on the Treaty of Arbroath – our sense of democracy and fairness. The Scots have always had that, but we’ve been so ignored over the years.”

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